Sorry team, Hoss is away this week, and I’m stepping in for him, so it won’t be the same level of drivel we’ve learnt to translate on any Friday. However, in the interests of remaining consistent for a Friday, I will ensure that it remains an opinion piece with no actual truth in it.
During the week the Daily Telegraph identified 10 ways that rugby could be improved, and we’ve had some chats about it on the paparazzi site. The article is here in Stuff and not behind a paywall unlike the one Keith first showed me. Now being a typically opinionated referee, I’ll have a go at replying to these and show where I agree and where I disagree with them. Note: all of us referees are opinionated, that’s why Law 6.5.a is so important, it allows us to make subjective calls based on our opinion of what we saw at the time.
Rugby is a hugely dynamic and imperfect game with multiple things happening at every contact point. The fact that the ball can be contested after the tackle is what provides a point of difference to other sports like league, AFL, American football etc. The officials cannot rule on every transgression because if they did the game would be an endless game of scrum, after scrum after scrum with perhaps a few penalties thrown in as well. The referee must decide if an incident is material to the game at that time and then decide to adjudicate on it or not, No one else will know if he/she has done this (although the ARs on comms might) and so won’t understand why a transgression was let go or called. This incidentally is why there is such an issue about consistency, a consistent tactical application of the law leads to inconsistent results on the field – live with it. Everyone in the field of play makes multiple mistakes during every game and there isn’t one decision made by the referee or any of the players that actually decides a game, but somehow, we’re able to forgive the players, and coaches but not the officials. I actually think this is more on us than on them.
No 1. Stop coaching. I actually get this one and for me it’s a balancing act. I think if we can tell players to get back or stop there or roll away it can help the flow of the game and prevent the stop/start of too many penalties. However, there’s a danger in this in that if you talk too much, players feel they have the right to then question what you’re saying (thanks Rassie). I still like to go back to Nigel Owens great line “I am explaining my decision, not debating it!” There are also those times when a player is trying to hold a ball carrier up to win a maul and the ball carrier gets a knee on the ground. The player holding the ball carrier up is often not able to see that a knee has reached the ground, so a call of “tackle and release” is important, so the tackler knows to release the player. Sure, if they don’t then penalise them, but going straight to a penalty is a bit rough on the tackler. It’s a balancing act and I agree less is better, but I can’t agree that we should stop completely.
No 2 Reduce TMO involvement. I am 100% behind this one. I do get why the TMO came in and I think that having them able to provide advice for the grounding of a ball in goal with either a definite “try/no try” or a “I cannot see anything to change your decision” is a great place to be. I know there are various other options, such as two phases/plays before the try but I think this is where the confusion starts. Sure, the law defines a Phase of play, but these are defined clearly as only a scrum, lineout, ruck or maul. A penalty is not defined as a separate phase and even though a maul and ruck are pretty clear, there’ll always be debate over whether things happened before the maul was formed, or after it was over and so should the event count. For example, a ball is knocked on as the maul forms, the ball leaves the maul (it’s over once the ball or ball carrier leaves the maul, when the ball is on the ground, if the ball is on or over the goal line) so debate about when it’s over will then go into whether the incident is one, two or three phases before the try is scored. The referee adjudicating the game will have a clear idea on this, but I can assure you the Erasmuses of the world will manipulate things to ensure that a different view is available and that the referee is wrong.
I also think that having them report on clear deliberate foul play is a good idea. I think that looking for high hits is good, especially with the injuries it’s causing, but if the collision wasn’t big enough for the onfield officials to see it then I’d rather it was left to the citing commissioner to look at. I think the citing commissioner needs to be stricter for this to work. I personally like the idea of the bunker as it stops those endless onfield reviews that are just painful. I do think they need good, experienced referees in there but the idea works for me. The other part of this is that it would probably be OK if the TMO was 100% accurate to then go back, but we know this isn’t going to happen (remember Etzebeth smashing Cane in the face with his elbow – sure every non Kiwi laughed and thought it was OK, but it was still a blatantly obvious miss by the TMO). I agree the TMO can see things from a different view, but I don’t think they’ll ever be perfect and trying to make an imperfect game perfect is an unattainable task.
3. Turn all scrum penalties into free kicks. I’m not 100% on side with this. I think more free kicks without the option for a scrum is probably a good idea and having 9s keep the ball in the scrum to force a penalty is poor play (the Boks again – who’d have guessed!). I think we need penalties for clear collapsing of the scrum, because that’s dangerous for so many of the participants, but I’d like to see the ball have to be used when available to the 9 at the back unless the scrum is clearly going for a pushover try. If the scrum goes sideways or starts to collapse, then the ball should be used. If the 9 pisses around, then it should be a free kick to the opposition.
4. Tidy up maul laws. This one mainly deals with the maul after a lineout, rather than the maul formed as a result of a tackle not bringing a player down. I get it this can be messy at times but I’m not sure it’s as bad as what it’s made out to be. I do get that people can get caught up in this and that the ball at the back gives the team holding it protection that no other law in the game gives them. However, for me the bits about changing your bind, the long feed and all that are minor compared to the ball not being able to be contested fairly by the opposition. Personally, I think the maul should stay, but the offside line should be the ball not the last foot and opposition players should be able to tackle the player holding it.
5. Enforce – and tighten – the ruck ‘use it’ countdown. I tend to agree with this one. The report ties it to the caterpillar (Keith’s favourite tactic) but I think it goes beyond that. I think the 5 seconds is too long and I think that when the referee says use it then the ball should be cleared “immediately” by the 9. I also think that once a ball is at the back of a ruck then no one is allowed to join the ruck – that would stop a lot of the caterpillar issues.
6. Goal line dropouts should be for held up only. In this one he argues that the goal line drop kick is for a ball held up only. Currently if the opposition kick it into the goal area and it doesn’t go out then that’s also a GL dropout. There’s always an argument about who should get the advantage when a ball is driven over the line but held up. Some people say the advantage should go to the team that drove the ball over, and others say it should be for the defensive effort in stopping a try. The trouble with giving a scrum for this is that, especially at the club level, some scrums are so much stronger than others that having the feed in a scrum is not always an advantage. The GL dropout does give the ball back to the team that drove the ball over, and it also relieves the pressure on the defending team. The issue that is brought up is that if a ball goes into the goal line and is grounded by a defender then it should go back to a 22m dropout. TBH, I don’t see this as big issue and can take either approach. I do find it hard to remember when it’s a GL drop out and when it’s a scrum and I’ve got it wrong in games, but on the whole, I don’t see this as winner one way or the other.
7. Solve disparity in card severity. This one really points to the accidental incident that reaches the RC threshold and under the current law carries a much harsher penalty than a similar incident that only reaches the YC level. In a lot of cases the difference between the two is minor and generally there’s no intent in either case. Looking at the RWC there is no doubt that neither of the tackles by Sam Cane and Siya Kolisi has any intent to contact the head, and some indication that Kolisi’s tackle was actually harder and caused more damage. However, one team lost a player for the match, while the other only lost one for 10 mins. This isn’t about the rulings (which were correct) just about the discrepancy in the punishment. I’ve actually turned around on this and I agree that a 20 min RC is probably a better outcome for these “accidents” and save the full RC for the more deliberate acts of foul play. There will always be discrepancies and people will argue on deliberate or not, but I do think for the good of the game and to keep things fair then this is a good idea.
8. Reward jackalling that is only clearly and obviously legal. I think the main issue here is the leniency given to the defender who are often unlawfully off their feet and holding the ball down rather than attempting to lift it. There’s also the added danger of players joining the ruck at speed and causing injury to these players doing the jackal. I think this one does carry some weight and there are changes that could be made. I have no issue with the jackal at all, but I think there’s an issue about when the jackal is complete. A tackled player has to make the ball available. But, they are permitted to also place the ball. So, if a tackled player is placing the ball and a Jackal comes in to try and gain possession, when is that possession gained? It seems there’s too much emphasis being placed on the jackal having hands on the ball equating to having possession. There are also so many times when a jackal only has one hand on the ball, but still given possession. I tend to agree that a jackal should only be given when it is clear and obvious. I also think that if a jackal loses his feet, then he should have to release the ball and not continue holding it. I have no issue with a jackal remaining in possession when a ruck is formed, but if he’s off his feet then I think he should lose that right to the ball.
9. Prohibit dummying at scrums and rucks. This, like putting the ball in straight, just needs the referee to apply the laws that are already in place. Personally, I think the halfback is given far too much protection these days. I agree on them not being able to be tackled while they get the ball out, but so many times you see them with the ball clearly out and looking up and the referee telling players they can’t be tackled. This is a no brainer and I agree 100%.
10. Abolish the
nonsensical ‘direction of hands’ forward pass law. This just demonstrates the lack of physics knowledge in the writer. There isn’t a law that specifically mentions forward pass. The law that is used in this is Law 11.6 “A throw forward may occur anywhere in the playing area. Sanction: scrum” Law 11.7 just adds that if it is a deliberate throw, or pass, forward then the sanction is a penalty. Interestingly 11.6 doesn’t mention the word pass. Now physics will tell us that the speed of the runner, the spin of the ball, wind and even rain can affect the flight of a ball. This is why the referee looks to see if it is forward out of the hands. If it’s not forward out of the hands, then it’s not “thrown forward” and there’s no sanction. Now I know there are times when the onfield officials get this wrong but that’s no reason to change the laws and I don’t think we should punish players when the ball goes forward from effects that they can’t control like the speed, spin and weather (although if a player kicks the ball and the wind takes it out on the full, we do punish him for it. Gotta love inconsistency). Otherwise the referee has to decide if the ball was affected by those or not. The process of determining if the ball was forward out of the hand is pretty simple for the most part and while we sometimes get it wrong, I think it’s actually a good law and should remain.
So, there you go. My completely biased and one-eyed opinion on these law changes. Let me know what you think.